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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

CHAPTER XI

PROBLEMS OF RECONSTRUCTION

I

STATE INSTITUTIONAL REFORM

In the foregoing chapter I have traced the larger aspects of a constructive relation between the national and democratic principles in the field of foreign politics.  The task remains of depicting somewhat in detail the aspect which our more important domestic problems assume from the point of view of the same relationship.  The general outlines of this picture have already been roughly sketched; but the mere sketch of a fruitful general policy is not enough.  A national policy must be justified by the flexibility with which, without any loss of its integrity, it can be applied to specific problems, differing radically one from another in character and significance.  That the idea of a constructive relationship between nationality and democracy is flexible without being invertebrate is one of its greatest merits.  It is not a rigid abstract and partial ideal, as is that of an exclusively socialist or an exclusively individualist democracy.  Neither is it merely a compromise, suited to certain practical exigencies, between individualism and socialism.  Its central formative idea can lend itself to many different and novel applications, while still remaining true to its own fundamental interest.

Flexible though the national ideal may be, its demands are in one respect inflexible.  It is the strenuous and irrevocable enemy of the policy of drift.  It can counsel patience; but it cannot abide collective indifference or irresponsibility.  A constructive national ideal must at least seek humbly to be constructive.  The only question is, as to how this responsibility for the collective welfare can at any one time be most usefully redeemed.  In the case of our own country at the present time an intelligent conception of the national interest will counsel patient agitation rather than any hazardous attempts at radical reconstruction.  No such reform can be permanent, or even healthy, until American public opinion has been converted to a completer realization of the nature and extent of its national responsibilities.  The ship of reform will gather most headway from the association of certain very moderate practical proposals with the issue of a deliberate, persistent, and far more radical challenge to popular political prejudices and errors.  It will be sufficient, in case our practical proposals seek to accomplish some small measure both of political and economic reconstruction, and in case they occupy some sort of a family relation to plans of the same kind with which American public opinion is already more or less familiar.

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